Detroit – The 10-day home stand started with a mess of rain and foul weather and ended with a frustrating 8-5 loss to the Royals on Sunday.
But in between there were five wins, two of them walk-offs, and some early signs that this Tigers team may be scrappier and feistier than most predicted.
“If you get caught up in individual games and individual at-bats, it’s going to be a long season for you,” catcher James McCann said. “But if you break it down into series and home stands — you will take a 5-3 home stand every time.
“If you go 5-3 on every home stand, that’s a pretty good year.”
The loss Sunday, though, was galling, more for how it came about than anything else.
“It was frustrating because the guys were getting after it pretty good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We got behind and we came right back. We needed somebody to go out and just shut it down.
“Throw the ball over the plate and take your lumps. But if you don’t throw the ball over the plate — that just can’t happen.”
Tigers pitchers walked eight. Four of those walks scored — all in the sixth and seventh inning when the Royals scored all eight of their runs.
“Free bases are never good,” Gardenhire said. “A couple of our guys couldn’t throw it over and when they did, it got banged.”
The Royals slammed three home runs, each a game-changer.
1. Whit Merrifield broke up a no-hit bid by Tigers starter Francisco Liriano leading off the sixth inning. He hit an 0-2, two-seam fastball into the seats in left field.
“I wasn’t thinking about the no-hitter, it was too early in the game,” said Liriano, whose pitch count, because of three walks to that point, was already over 80 in the sixth inning. “When you walk too many guys, you forget that you haven’t given up a hit.
“I just made a mistake (to Merrifield). I need to execute that pitch better.”
He wanted the pitch, at 91 mph, to be up and in. Instead, it was in the middle of the plate and in.
Liriano left after walking his fourth batter (Jorge Soler) with one out. Alex Wilson entered and got two quick strikes on Paulo Orlando — and then walked him to load the bases.
“That is unacceptable,” Wilson said. “Can’t do that.”
2. Switch-hitter Abraham Almonte sent a 91-mph fastball 425 feet into seats in right field — grand slam, 5-2 Royals.
“I tried to make a pitch – a two-seamer down and away,” Wilson said. “But I yanked it. You never want to throw a heater down and in to a left-handed hitter. I have to make a better pitch.”
3. The kill shot was delivered by left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas, a three-run blast in the seventh inning, after the Tigers had scored three times in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game 5-5.
Royals starter Eric Skoglund walked Jeimer Candelario and Miguel Cabrera and was lifted for right-hander Kevin McCarthy. Nick Castellanos (three hits and two RBIs) and JaCoby Jones followed with RBI singles and McCann tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
“They don’t quit,” Liriano said. “This team is going to keep fighting.”
That ended up being the last hurrah, though.
Right-hander Drew VerHagen took over for Wilson and was out of sorts from the beginning. One pitch bounced halfway to the plate and two others nearly beaned Royals hitters.
Gardenhire took him out immediately after he walked the first two batters.
“That was kind of scary,” Gardenhire said. “That’s misfiring. We’re trying to find spots where we can use him because he hasn’t pitched in a few days. We needed him to get a couple of outs and he lost it.”
Left-handed relievers Daniel Stumpf and Daniel Norris were both unavailable. So Gardenhire went to right-hander Buck Farmer to face Moustakas.
“Other people have to get some outs for us some time or another,” Gardenhire said. “It just didn’t work out today.”
Farmer had allowed only one run in his last seven outings, but he hung a 2-2 change-up and Moustakas sent it on a high arc over the right-field wall and onto the Belle Tire sign.
“Liri threw the ball extremely well today,” McCann said. “And he didn’t make a terrible pitch on the home run. Merrifield made a good swing. But it kind of unraveled from there.
“It was the walks, really that killed us.”